Does Nuclear Power have a place in a Sustainable Future?

Group 11

Introduction

The first nuclear power plant was built back in 1954 and the industry has been surrounded in conflicting opinions ever since. The capability of nuclear power has grown significantly over the last 70 odd years but recently this growth has stagnated. The world currently receives 10 percent of its electricity supply from nuclear plants; there are countries that eat, sleep, and breathe nuclear power but on the flip side, others avoid it like the plague. As the Earth hopes to enter a cleaner and more sustainable future, countries are seeking answers and must ask themselves, is nuclear power harmful or is it the key to a sustainable future?

The Arguments For

With the global population increasing every year, it becomes an increasingly challenging task to provide electricity to all these billions of people. Electricity is essential for almost all populations and the dominating reason to adopt nuclear power is simply for its ability to deliver power to a greater number of people in a population, thus complying with utilitarianism ethics. This powering technique is also favourable because unlike current renewables, such as solar or wind power, nuclear power doesn’t rely on a bright, sunny sky or a windy day. Additionally, adopting nuclear power will create numerous jobs for people; most of these are high skill, well-paid and will assist growth in local communities. Currently, oil, gas and coal power plants provide the vast majority of the world’s energy. Fossil fuels are by far the most harmful energy source, endangering both human life and the environment. The air pollution and the emission of greenhouse gases are clear signs that a move from ‘dirty’ energy is required. As a planet, we must comply with green ethics and strive toward a sustainable future without a reliance on fossil fuels; utilising nuclear technology provides an ideal solution to do so. Nuclear power does not release any greenhouse gases or air pollution into the atmosphere. There are also far fewer deaths related to nuclear power when compared to fossil fuel power and is even on par with renewable power sources. Another environmental factor to consider is the amount of space taken up by the power plant. An average one-gigawatt power plant takes up approximately one square mile of space. It would take 75 times more land of solar or 360 times more land of wind power to produce the same amount of energy as the single nuclear plant. The extra land saved by using nuclear power could be used to further assist the environment by planting trees, for example.
Energy providers have an obligation to provide electricity to the population, at any time, no matter the demand. Nuclear power is the most reliable source of power and runs at maximum capacity for 93% of the year. It has an average lifetime of 50 years and is always producing, 24/7; this is the longest average lifetime compared to all other sources of power. This stable source will be compulsory for energy suppliers to adopt in a sustainable future, to provide electricity to its customers no matter the weather, thus helping suppliers comply with care ethics. The previous argument could also be used to prove that utilising nuclear power acknowledges virtue ethics; the supplier helping to power the population is honourable and the morally right thing to do.

Creative abstract nuclear power fuel manufacturing, disposal and utilization industry concept: 3D render illustration of the group of stacked yellow metal barrels, drums or containers with poison dangerous hazardous radioactive materials in the industrial storage warehouse with selective focus effect

The Arguments Against

There are many ethical reasons why people and countries stand against the use of nuclear power. From a utilitarian perspective, the cost of setting up and running a nuclear power station is extreme, whereas that money could be used to help research and develop ways to make greener and more sustainable ways of producing power. The construction of a nuclear power station can pose a danger to local residents due to low levels of radiation, and long-term exposure increases the risk of developing cancer. If a nuclear disaster were to occur at a nuclear power station, tens of millions of people could be affected due to the majority of current power stations being located close to densely populated areas.

Green ethics is becoming a large factor when looking at an ethical issue in the modern world. Applying the green ethics point of view to the nuclear energy program, the key problems arise when looking at the waste produced by nuclear power stations and how/where it is disposed of. It can be questioned as to whether the nuclear program is as clean as companies say. The impact of nuclear waste is both huge and irreversible, with no current way to permanently dispose of or store the waste; also, current methods to dispose of this waste are very expensive. Highly radioactive nuclear waste can stay radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years. Another green ethics issue is the mining of the raw nuclear materials to be used as fuel causes both harm to the environment and puts the people working to mine it at a potential risk.

From a duty ethics standpoint, it is morally wrong to construct a nuclear power station or dispose of nuclear waste in populated areas or have people living by due to the emitted radiation which can lead to long term health problems. Looking at this dilemma from a care ethics point of view, it can be noted that the location of both waste disposal points and the nuclear power stations themselves are of paramount importance, and both the government and the company that owns the power station must care for the local citizens and will not want to place them under any extra potential harm or increase the risks they have while living there. Residents local to nuclear power stations experience increased risks of long-term health problems due to low levels of radiation; this is against the principles of nonmaleficence and justice. If a nuclear disaster was to occur, the high levels of radioactive gases that would be released would cause significant illness or death in humans and wildlife.

Initial Decision:

We are for nuclear power

1 thought on “Does Nuclear Power have a place in a Sustainable Future?

  1. Feedback
    1. Clarity of problem/dilemma
    You didn’t really state the dilemma, nuclear power doesn’t emit carbon and is a reliable form of energy but it does generate hazardous, long-term waste and accidents when they happen are severe.

    2. Use of ethical theories in the For Case
    Interesting comment about the footprint of a nuclear power plant. The opposing argument would be off-shore wind and that solar panels can be put on roofs, as well as used in ‘agrivoltaics’.
    Good use of theories. You could use Kant’s theory to support the argument that an electricity customer wants access to electrical power as required.

    3. Use of Ethical theories in the Against case
    When you say: “duty ethics standpoint, it is morally wrong to construct a nuclear power station” – can you explain why that is so, please? Is it because most people would choose not to live near a nuclear power station?
    Good use of the care ethics argument.

    4. Advice on Assignment Two
    a. Identifying stakeholders
    b. Courses of action

    Quite a few stakeholders, with the environment being one too. And future generations too.
    The Black/White option is to support or oppose the building of more nuclear power stations.

    5. Personal remarks
    A good case for nuclear power is France, which generates most of its electricity from nuclear (if I recall). And is a nice case for how good French engineering is – how many French nuclear accidents do you know about?
    Countries may like the energy independence that comes from nuclear too.

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